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New Jersey Court Discusses Exclusivity of the Workers' Compensation Law


In most instances in which an employee suffers harm while working, the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law (the Law) provides the employee’s exclusive remedy. There is an exception, though, for cases in which the employer commits an intentional wrong. Proving an employer’s intentional act caused an employee’s harm can be difficult, as discussed in a recent New Jersey case. If you suffered an injury while you were working, it is prudent to speak to an attorney regarding what benefits you may be able to recover and whether you may be able to pursue any other claims.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the plaintiff and his co-worker were involved in a car accident. The co-worker was driving a vehicle owned by the defendant for whom they worked. The plaintiff suffered severe injuries, after which he filed a lawsuit against the co-worker and defendant seeking compensation for his harm. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, in which it argued that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the Law. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that his claims fell under the intentional act exception of the exclusivity provisions of the Law. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Proving an Intentional Wrong

On appeal, the appellate court explained that under the test for determining whether an intentional wrong had been committed, a plaintiff must show more than a mere appreciation or knowledge of risk. In other words, the appellate court stated that a defendant that engages in an act that he or she knows or believes places another person at risk for harm may be negligent but is not committing an intentional wrong. The appellate court elaborated, however, that an intentional act is not limited to actions taken with a wish to cause harm but also acts the employer commits despite the knowledge that such acts are substantially certain to cause harm. The appellate court also noted that there is a high bar to proving substantial certainty and that knowledge that an act may result in death or evidence of gross negligence or a complete lack of concern for an employee’s health is insufficient to demonstrate intent.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the evidence of record did not suggest, and the plaintiff did not argue that the defendant had a subjective desire to injure the plaintiff. Thus, the appellate court analyzed whether the defendant’s acts created a substantial certainty that the plaintiff would be injured. The plaintiff argued that because the defendant knew the plaintiff’s co-worker had sleep apnea, yet let him drive regardless, it was substantially certain the plaintiff’s harm would arise. The appellate court was not persuaded by this argument, noting that the co-worker passed yearly physicals and successfully maintained his commercial drivers license. As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Talk to a Seasoned New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have suffered harm while you working, you should talk to an attorney to discuss whether you may be eligible to recover workers’ compensation benefits or any other damages. The seasoned New Jersey workers’ compensation attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can assess the circumstances surrounding your workplace injury and advise you of your options for seeking redress for your injuries. You can reach us at (934) 200-5372 or via our online form to set up a meeting.